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Change in immigration case reviews signals a more humane approach to deportations

LatinaLista — Today, senior White House officials delivered the news Latino community activist groups have been waiting for — all 300,000 cases pending for removal from the country will be reviewed on a case-by-case basis.

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What does that mean?

It means that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is going to review each case individually to see whether the person warrants removal based on DHS’s criteria for high-level or low-level threats.

If someone is found to be a low-level threat, their case will be stayed and removed from the stack of caseloads waiting to be seen by immigration judges. Senior White House officials were quick to say that at any time the case could be revisited but for the time being a case identified as low-level would be filed away to make room and time to focus on high-level priority cases.

On top of that, senior management at DHS will be sending out a memo to their field agents to provide guidance and establish priorities for the agents on who to take into custody and who to leave alone.

Given past reaction to changes in immigration enforcement in the past, there will no doubt be vocal criticism by some agents. If the DHS is sincere in implementing this new policy they need to make sure all agents are on board, or at least publicly on board.

In the past, criticisms by federal agents have caused confusion and fear among most immigrant communities which lead to a breakdown of trust between the communities and DHS.

With such an important change in policy, something like that doesn’t need to be repeated.

With this blanket review, most groups are assuming that this change explicitly means that DREAM Act students won’t be deported. For all practical purposes, that should be the case since a student in good standing with high moral character (two requirements to qualify as a DREAM Act student) would meet the low-level criteria.

However, nowhere does it explicitly say DREAM Act students. Unfortunately, in the past what is assumed doesn’t always mean certainty. DHS agents have a tendency to disregard anything that is not explicitly spelled out in guidelines. Hopefully, this is not one of those times.

While many in the Latino community are praising this move, hardened skepticism remains, especially in light of a federal judge’s statements that immigration officials purposely mislead states and governments on the immigration enforcement program known as Secure Communities.

“There is ample evidence that ICE [Immigration and Customs Enforcement] and DHS [Department of Homeland Security] have gone out of their way to mislead the public about Secure Communities,” U.S. District Judge Shira A. Scheindlin wrote in an opinion on the release of the documents. “In particular, these agencies have failed to acknowledge a shift in policy when it is patently obvious — from public documents and statements — that there has been one.”

No one in the Latino community is stupid enough to not believe that this sudden change of heart is a way to win Latino votes. Most see today’s action as a direct response to the mass rallies and protests against the Secure Communities program being held across the country this week, even at Obama’s campaign headquarters.

No doubt this “enlightened” way to deal with our broken immigration system is a political move but above all, it’s the right move.

However, it remains to be seen if it’s enough of a move to garner votes in 2012 — now that we officially know the truth about the Secure Communities program.

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